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This Day in Yankees History: A great and a terrible front office decision

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The Yankees made a steal of a trade on this day, and then, as if to rebalance cosmic energies, they engineered one of the worst free agent signings exactly 40 years later.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins

Welcome to the relaunched This Day in Yankees History. The 2020 baseball season has come to an end, so let’s dig into the history books. These daily posts will highlight two or three key moments in Yankees history on a given date, as well as recognize players born on the day. Hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane with us!

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This Day in Yankees History (December 7)

47 Years Ago

In a particularly lopsided transaction, the Yankees shipped out 38-year-old workhorse Lindy McDaniel to the Royals for former Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella and Ken Wright. Though McDaniel would make 78 appearances for Kansas City over the next two seasons, all but five came in relief, while he posted just a 103 ERA+ before retiring following his age-39 season. (He actually just passed away a month ago.) Wright became little more than a footnote to the deal, pitching a mere six innings for the Yankees.

Piniella, a mediocre outfielder with a plus hit tool, played eleven seasons for the Yankees, most notably for the dominant mid-to-late seventies editions of the squad. As an everyday starter for most of his tenure, he helped the club reach four World Series and win two championships before retiring in 1984.

Immediately after the conclusion of his playing career, Piniella took on the role of hitting coach for the Yankees, until they promoted him to manager in 1986. In 1990, he skippered the Reds to their fifth and most recent World Series win, the third of his career. Later, he went on to manage the record-setting 116-win 2001 Seattle Mariners before managerial stints with the Devil Rays and Cubs carried him to his retirement in 2010.

Seven Years Ago

Brian Cashman made (hopefully) the worst deal of his tenure at the helm of the Yankees’ front office, and one of the worst free agent signings of all-time, inking Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal in an attempt to reinvigorate the team’s aging roster. Instead, Ellsbury failed to even sniff replicating his 2011 second-place MVP finish where he posted 8.3 WAR, as he failed to record an OPS above .750 during his time in pinstripes.

With Ellsbury in center, the Yankees failed to make the playoffs each of the next two seasons, before getting bounced by Dallas Keuchel’s Astros in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game. He remained a regular starter for the following season due to his albatross contract, but rarely played come playoff time, recording just 12 plate appearances in the Yankees’ 2017 ALCS run where they, again, lost to the Astros.

The one skill Ellsbury can definitively claim he’s the greatest to ever do, is draw catcher’s interferences. On his 34th birthday, he broke Pete Rose’s record for the most career catcher’s interferences in approximately a third of the at-bats.

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Former Yankee Eric Chávez, celebrates his 43rd birthday today. Although he only played for the club during a couple seasons at the tail end of his career, at his peak with the Moneyball Athletics, he was arguably the AL’s best third baseman. Drafted by the A’s with the tenth overall pick in 1996, Chávez eventually grew into one of the team’s most essential contributors, recording more WAR than all but 12 other MLB position players from 2001-05. He was never one of the game’s very best bats, as he posted a 123 OPS+ during those years, but his stellar defense at the hot corner vaulted him into baseball’s upper echelon of talent in the early aughts, including six straight Gold Gloves from 2001-06. Chávez later acquitted himself well as a frequent role player for the Yankees in 2012, often spelling Alex Rodriguez at third and batting .281/.348/.496 with 16 homers in 113 games.

Tino Martinez, the late-1990s edition of the seemingly omnipresent Yankees first-base slugger, turns 53. The club made the move that acquired Don Mattingly’s successor exactly one quarter-century ago today — also Tino’s birthday, as well as the day his daughter Victoria was born. The Yankees gave up Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis for the rights to sign Martinez to a five-year, $20.25 million contract. He quickly silenced the doubters who were unsure about him taking Don Mattingly’s old job, and helped lead the team to World Series glory by mashing 175 homers over the next six seasons.

After four championships and five World Series appearances, the Yankees let him walk in free agency in favor of signing Jason Giambi to man first. Martinez signed with the Cardinals and spent two seasons in St. Louis keeping Albert Pujols’ future position warm. The Tampa native went home to the Devils Rays via a trade prior to the 2004 campaign and ultimately returned to the Bronx for one final season in 2005.

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We thank Baseball Reference and Nationalpastime.com for providing background information for these posts.